For women is effective if done the right way and under supervision, says KAMALA THIAGARAJAN

Weight training (working-out with weights) was once considered solely a male domain. However, today, an increasing number of women all over the world are realising the potent benefits of combining weight training with their regular fitness workouts.

Earlier, women kept away from weight training because of an irrational fear that they may unintentionally end up looking like one of those unsightly body builders on TV, but recent research has proved beyond doubt that it is impossible for a woman's body to bulge with biceps like a man's. This is simply because she does not possess enough of the male hormone, testosterone which aids in building rippling muscles. The muscular women weight lifters you may have seen on TV have, in most cases, used anabolic steroids and ate a very specific diet to recreate that look of bulkiness, so you don't need to worry about that happening to you!

Also, weight training isn't just meant for younger women, but can be equally effective for women of all age groups. The only difference is that women over 45 should be supervised at all times by a personal fitness instructor who can effectively set a healthy pace and monitor their progress

Gaining muscle strength

It is common knowledge that muscle mass requires a great deal more energy to sustain itself than fat or flab and, therefore, by building a more muscled body, you are equipping yourself with the long-term potential of burning more calories.

Building muscles is a woman's weapon against AMO [arthritis, menopause problems, and osteoporosis]. As a woman ages, she is terribly vulnerable to these three most debilitating conditions - osteoporosis, or the weakening of the bones through loss of calcium, arthritis and related joint pain, and hormonal fluctuations and problems, caused due to cessation of the monthly reproductive cycle. Weight training has been proved to provide great relief in these conditions. The average woman who does not weight train loses about one per cent of her bone mass each year after age 35.

Lifting weights can drastically slow down the rate of bone loss and may even reverse the process. With strong bones, you won't become hunched as you age, and you'll lower your risk of life-threatening fractures.

Muscular strength declines approximately by five per cent per decade for the untrained individual — be it male or female. And, ironically, your body strength isn't calculated by how thin or how fat you may be! You may weigh less at 45 years than you did at 35, but body composition testing might show you that your body fat percentage has increased and the weight that you've lost is lean muscle mass, not fat. This is also the reason why people who are of the same weight and build may intrinsically differ - with one looking and feeling more fit than the other.

Begin with care

If you've never weight trained before, it is always best to consult your physician before beginning. Bear in mind that pushing your body too hard, too soon, or training with very heavy weights can be dangerous and counter-productive.

"Exercise is like medication," says Edward Laskowski, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Centre at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, US.

"It has to be prescribed and taken appropriately. Incorrect technique, like an incorrect prescription, can hurt you." Forget the old adage, "no pain, no gain.” If you are experiencing cramps, or lower abdominal pain, it indicates bad posture, incorrect technique, or too much strain. Ignoring these symptoms will only heighten your risk of injury,” he warns.

Doing it right

• Select weights that you are comfortable lifting

• The weights you choose shouldn't be too difficult or too easy for you to work with

• They should offer your body just the right amount of resistance for best results

• For women, dumbbells may be the best equipment

• Light stretching and warming up with floor exercises is recommended before any vigorous work-out.

• Move on to heavier weights when you feel comfortable. This way, you can work all your major muscles - abdominals, chest, back, shoulders and arms. The only precaution you must take is to ensure that your manner of holding the weight is correct and your posture is good. Do not stoop, or else you will end up placing undue strain on your ankles.

Weight training will ensure that you grow fitter as you grow older. It is the secret to youth, independence and longevity. Use weight techniques to change the shape of your body and alter the very course of your life!

Keywords: fitnesshealth